Monday, January 9, 2012

Lost In Re-Retranslation

You know, I have spent so much time chasing loose ends with my wonderful family.  Genealogy is not for the faint of heart because heavens only knows exactly what you'll find and who it's going to contradict.  It seems that every branch of my beloved family, for reasons as yet undetermined, conspired to delude those of us determined to track them down  It is as though they knew people would someday look beyond the veil of reality trying to determine what their roots were and strung together a web of prevarications that would set Sherlock Holmes to beating his head on a brick wall until he lost consciousness.  My lovely cousin's branch of the tree is no exception to this.  They do, in fact, make a real art of concealing the details.

You may be asking yourself what has started me ranting, yet again, about this plate of spaghetti full of twists, knots, and turns masquerading as a family tree with clean neatly populated branches.  High schools!  Yes, I said  high schools.  More appropriately their proximity to churches, former addresses and distant cousins.  As if the education system itself doesn't do enough to cloud the history of those that pass through it my family has to go about adding flourishes of their own!  The tale begins with Jacob "Uncle Jake" Lashley the noted Saint Louis lawyer.

Some years ago I came to possess a full page article written about my cousins winning the Golden Globe Award.  It details a good portion of her early life.  She talks about her days with Municipal Opera and her time at "Central High School" in Saint Louis.  Ever since I found this article I have been diligently looking for her appearance in a yearbook from that institution.  Imagine my shear joy when I found the 1919 yearbook for "Central High"!  I could hardly stand to wait for it and was totally beside myself when it arrived that I nearly cried with anticipation during the trip from the mailbox to the house!  I cracked it opened....NO AGNES!!!!  NO AGNES!!!! NO AGNES!!!!  I felt like Charlie Brown when Lucy pulls the football out from in front of him at the last minute.  I made were sooooo expensive....perhaps she was sick the day they were taken.......or they forgot to print her name!!!!!!  You name the excuse I repeated it.  But I strengthened my resolve to follow this through until I found my cousins high school annual.

After all the foolishness, time, and energy I am not even about to turn this loose!  I emailed with another researcher who mentioned, mind you I haven't thought about it in quite awhile, that a fellow they had been in contact with mentioned that Agnes didn't go to "Central High" she went to "Soldan High."  Today I began trying to link together all of the information with family research I've done over the years and tie it all together to try to find a yearbook with Peggy or Agnes' photograph.  I had no idea when I started today that after years of reading things literally, translating them to Agnes-speak, and trying to connect the dots I would come to the realization that a statement made about my gorgeous cousin's pretzel like twists would be the understatement of a lifetime.

Today I started reading the Lashley information with an eye to their address.  I found it to be 35 Windermere Place.  Then I perused the directories I had earmarked for John Moorehead.  4466 McPherson Avenue.  While looking at a map with both addresses marked it dawned on me their close proximity to one another.  Then I keyed in "Central High" expecting it to be within walking distance from the not near but I'll tell which school is "Soldan High School."  This blew me away believe me.  I forgot to mention before that while diligently searching for Agnes' high school information I came across reunion information for Peggy.  It lists her as a graduate of  "Cleveland High School" in June of 1925.  Posthaste I began searching for her yearbook and, yes I'll bet you guess this without a hint, I found the June of 1925 "Cleveland High."  I promptly purchased that as well....waited with baited breath.....only to find NO PEGGY!!!!!!!!!! NO PEGGY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!NO PEGGY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Yet again I find myself led astray like Charlie Brown by Lucy with the damn football.

I grumbled, groaned, tapped the desk irritably, took a walk, ate some sugar, then waddled back to the desk with my resolve bumped up by an overdose of chocolate.  I sat down.  I typed in the address of "Cleveland High" and waited for Google to confirm my worst fear.  There it was "Cleveland High" at the other end of the world from the common thread that linked all these people together, Delmar Boulevard.  In all honesty I cannot say for sure where Peggy stayed while attending high school but I have my suspicions.  My suspicion is prompted, in part, by the former location of  "The Jewish Hospital."  It was located at 4515 Delmar Boulevard until 1927.  To add to that John Moorehead's former pastorate was near Delmar Boulevard and the families address was also within two city blocks of Delmar Boulevard.  Jacob Lashley, "Uncle Jake" to Agnes, lived within two city blocks of Delmar Boulevard.  Finally, "Soldan High School" is within two city blocks of Delmar Boulevard.

Our modern world is unfettered by the constraints of locale.  The world of the early twentieth century was quite a different place.  Your neighborhood was your world then.  You lived, worked, shopped, got your education. sought health care, and attended church within a very short distance from one another.  Transportation was not cheap especially on the limited salary of of a pastor.  It is more than a likely bet that the Moorehead family did not live far from the church or far from the schools attended by the Moorehead girls.  The last piece to connect these dots was the St. Louis Municipal Opera.

Reading the article about Agnes that I mentioned before makes clear her view as a teenager who cut class to go to an audition with a friend for the Municipal Opera that she traveled to, what she viewed, as the other side of town.  The truth of the matter is that "The Muny", which is still in operation as "America's Oldest and Largest Outdoor Theater", is about three city blocks off of, guess, yup you got it, DELMAR BOULEVARD.

Unbeknownst to all of us the world is or was centered around Delmar Boulevard.  The lives of all of these people revolved around Delmar Boulevard.  It is difficult to downsize our super sized view of the world to try to comprehend that our lives have changed so very much since the births of our grandparents or great-grandparents or great-great grandparents.  We live in an age of technology where the planet grows smaller everyday.  Our ability to even do something as basic as blogging that would have befuddled Agnes and completely would have seemed like something written by Jules Verne to her sister or her father, we take for granted.  We can assume that the past is written in stone but it isn't.  How would we know what passes for written in stone anyway, we live online in a digital universe.  We live now, as Agnes would say, "in the sparkle of a star"  and "our home has no boundaries beyond which we cannot pass."  Next stop Delmar Boulevard located in "The Twilight Zone."

1 comment:

Wayne Brasler said...

I grew up to the north of Agnes' world, but much of my world centered on Delmar Avenue because my father was a streetcar motorman and the Delmar barn (so named, but not a barn at all) was where he reported and from which the streetcar lines on which he worked departed. I did go to Soldan High School one semester of freshman year because our family moved out of the city to the suburban Normandy area, a whole new world. I grew up at the Muny and the first production I saw was "The Wizard of Oz" in 1946. This summer I will be there seeing the 2016 production. You are right. St. Louis was in Aggie's time an intimate town of neighborhoods, and the Delmar area was one of the most bustling, classiest, and a collage of religions, ethnicities and economic levels punctuated by beautiful schools, beautiful churches, beautiful synagogues and abundant park land. Aggie indeed did attend and graduate from Soldan and can been clearly see in yearbook photos. It should be mentioned that the great Mary Wickes grew up near the same area, became a favorite at the Muny, graduated from Washington University (a short walk from Delmar!), and after finding great success both on the stage and in film, came home regularly and planned once, in her words "I finish doing whatever I am doing" to buy a home near Delmar and move back. Also from St. Louis, Betty Grable (her real name) after she found fame and fortune in Hollywood returned often visit relatives. Virginia Mayo also went to Soldan (as Virginia Jones) as did Kay Thompson.. The common denominator among all these ladies, except for Thompson, was their matter-of-fact, down-to-earth personas. There was not much show biz in their makeup. Very St. Louis, a city where the poorest kid (me) from an immigrant heritage (me), Jewish (me) and strange (me, God knows) could somehow end up on radio by age 10, and enjoy most of his life hanging out at radio and T.V. stations and back stage at the Muny, meeting many famous people and being mentored by many of them. Aggie from what I can tell had no fondness for St. Louis once she left, but St. Louis always had a fondness for her. Strangely, later I was President of the Joni James International Fan Club and Joni and her husband Tony Acquaviva moved to Beverly Hills on Roxbury House, first renting Aggie's house until their home up the block was ready. I have many photos of that fabulous house. Joni and Tony also had the services of Aggie's house staff and loved the experience. Aggie lived right in the thick of Hollywood royalty--Lucy and Desi, Jack Benny, Rosemary Clooney, Jeanne Crain, and down the block Henry Fonda and James Stewart--and she was very social, known particularly for her fabulous parties at Christmas time.She should have won an Oscar for "The Magnificent Ambersons."

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